With India launching an airstrike on a target in Pakistan on Tuesday, tensions between the two nuclear rivals are escalating. On Wednesday, Pakistan claimed to have downed two Indian fighter jets and captured an Indian air force pilot — a grainy video posted online by the Pakistani military’s media wing showed him drinking tea and facing questions from the military. India has confirmed that one fighter jet was shot down in an “aerial engagement” with Pakistani forces.
India carried out the Tuesday airstrike after a Feb. 14 attack killed 40 paramilitary police officers in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The disputed Himalayan territory is claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan. A Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Muhammad, has asserted responsibility for the attack.
Amid the spiraling crisis, Indians and Pakistanis have taken to Twitter to share their thoughts, hopes and fears. As thousands of tweets poured in from celebrities, politicians and commentators on both sides of the border, three hashtags began to trend.
Some condemned the clashes, others celebrated Pakistan’s retaliation. Many, it seemed, wanted one thing: peace.
Using the hashtag #SayNoToWar, thousands united in appealing for defusing the situation and called on others to do the same. Vishal Dadlani, a popular Indian musician with almost 3 million Twitter followers, wrote that “sane citizen voices” can force the governments of both nations to find “some sense.” He said this in response to a Pakistani citizen’s appeal to return the captured pilot to India.
Indian presenter Raunak Kapoor joined the chorus of voices, writing: “We are on the brink of a war that nobody in their right mind in either Pakistan or India want. Imran Khan’s words should be welcomed. Encourage dialogue, commit to de-escalation. Anyone who thinks otherwise should for a moment swap places with Abhinandan & his family
There was concern abroad, as well. Yasmin Qureshi, a Labour Party lawmaker, made her views clear in the British Parliament:
Seemingly inspired by the “Star Wars” sequel “The Empire Strikes Back,” #PakistanStrikesBack began to trend worldwide, with many lauding the Pakistani military’s response to Tuesday’s bombing.
Former Pakistani cricket player Shoaib Akhtar tweeted to his 1.94 million followers: “The response to aggression is retaliation. A strong one as given by our brave soldiers. Salute to PAF & Pakistan Army. Pakistan Zindabad. I hope we reach an amicable solution. #PakistanZindabad #PakistanStrikesBack”
Akhtar continued to tweet his thoughts on the conflict, writing in a follow-up tweet: “As our PM
@ImranKhanPTI and DG ISPR @OfficialDGISPR have repeatedly said in past few days that we dont want war and have suggested several times to sit and talk. But if our sovereignty is challenged, an appropriate response was due. #PakistanZindabaad #PakistanStrikesBack” OfficialDGISPR refers to the spokesman for the Pakistani military.
Many Indians, in turn, have expressed concern about the welfare of the captured pilot, Wing Cmdr. Abhinandan Varthaman, and tweeted their support and well wishes. After the video of the pilot sipping tea began to circulate, many praised his polite refusal to answer the Pakistani military’s questions.
“Calm & dignified. Hats off to Wing Commander Abhinandan. Takes a lot of courage to conduct oneself with such composure at a time like this. So dear war mongers, keyboard warriors & most of all hyper nationalistic prime time anchors, learn a lesson or two. #BringBackAbhinandan," Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, wrote.
An earlier video posted to Twitter by the Pakistani government appeared to show Varthaman bloody and blindfolded. Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, confirmed that the video was later deleted.
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, the Indian minister of state for youth affairs, praised the pilot’s valor:
Many others urged Khan to return Varthaman as a gesture of peace after he offered dialogue with India.